Monday, May 29, 2017

Fawzia Faud of Egypt, Queen of Iran

Princess Fawzia Fuad was the eldest daughter of Fuad I, Sultan of Egypt and Sudan and his second wife, Nazli Sabri. Born on November 5, 1921 at Ras El Tin Palace in Alexandria, she was the second child of Faud I and had five siblings, one of whom was from her father’s first marriage.

Fawzia’s father, Faud I, was the seventh son of Isma'il Pasha - also known as Ismail the Magnificent - the Khedive (Viceroy) of Egypt and Sudan from 1863 to 1879. Ismail was well-known for his successful efforts at modernizing these two countries but his administration resulted in serious debt for the Khedivate, which ultimately resulted in the British pushing him in exile. Though he had numerous wives and children, his son Faud was born to one of his many concubines. Faud’s mother, Feriyal Kadinefendi, was a Frenchwoman of noble birth who was captured and sold into slavery in Egypt. When she entered Ismail’s harem in 1867, he was captivated by her beauty and grace, despite the fact that she was fifteen years his junior. He married her that same year and another year after that, she gave birth to Faud in Cairo.

When Egypt was created a sultanate in 1914 and named a protectorate of Britain in 1915, the British overthrew Abbas II in favor of his pro-British uncle, Hussein Kamel. Kamel reigned as Sultan of Egypt and Sudan for three years until his death, after which his only son refused the British-established throne. Thus, the crown passed to Kamel’s nephew, the forty-nine year old Faud I, who changed his title of “sultan” to “king” in 1922.

Faud had been unhappily married to his cousin, Princess Shivakiar Ibrahim for two years until they finally divorced in 1898. Their marriage was anything but serene, as during a fight with her brother, Faud was shot in the throat but survived. Their marriage did produce two children, however, a son who died in infancy and a daughter named Fawkia.

Fawzia’s parents - King Faud I of Egypt and Nazli Sabri
Faud met his second wife and Fawzia’s mother, the twenty-five year old Nazli Sabri, at an opera performance and married her on May 24, 1919, just twelve days after he proposed to her. Nazli, who was a whopping twenty-five years Faud’s junior, was the daughter of the governor of Cairo and the maternal granddaughter of a three-time Prime Minister of Egypt. Her maternal great-grandfather, Suleiman Pasha, was a French army officer in Napoleon I’s army who converted to Islam and served in the Egyptian army. Nazli had previously been married to an Egyptian aristocrat in 1918 but their marriage ended in divorce that same year.

Faud’s second marriage was just as tempestuous as his first. Nazli wasn’t allowed to moved into Kobbeh Palace, the royal residence, until she gave birth to a son in 1920. Although she was the queen consort, Faud didn’t allow her to venture outside the palace except to go to opera performances, flower shows, and other ladies-only societal occasions. As a highly educated and cultured woman, Nazli struggled to conform to this restrictive lifestyle. Unsurprisingly, the couple fought frequently, which often resulted in Faud hitting his wife in anger and locking her in her room for weeks. It is said that on one occasion, she tried to take her own life by overdosing on aspirin pills.

Fuad and Nazli had five children together. After the birth of their first child and only son, the future Farouk I in early 1920, they had four daughters. Fawzia was their second child and eldest daughter, followed by Faiza in 1923, Faika in 1926, and Fathia in 1930. All of his daughters’ names began with the letter “F” as a tribute to Fuad’s beloved mother, who died in 1902.

Fawzia as a young girl
Fawzia, who was of Circassian, Turkish, French, and Albanian descent (the Egyptian royal family was not ethnically Egyptian), would later be known as an “Asian Venus” for her famed beauty. With her thick, dark waves, heart-shaped face, striking features, and piercing light blue eyes, she had an almost unworldly allure. Like her mother, she received an impressive education for an Egyptian woman of her time by attending school in Switzerland. She also spoke three languages - her native Arabic, as well as English and French. However, she was incredibly sheltered and was described by one courtier as a “supremely naive, over-protected, cellophane-wrapped, gift-packaged little girl” who lived “in bucolic surroundings, mobbed by adoring servants, aunts and ladies-in-waiting.” She was so sheltered, in fact, that she was described as being “virtually a prisoner in her mother’s houseboat on the Nile. She rarely went out, and when she did she was surrounded by ladies-in-waiting and retainers. At a time when all other young girls were enjoying a relative freedom, Fawzia, by virtue of her position, was closely hemmed in.”

When Fawzia was seventeen years-old, an ambassador from Iran was sent to Cairo to propose the idea of a marriage between Fawzia and the Crown Prince of Iran - Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, desired a union between Egypt and Iran’s royal families, as Fawzia’s old royal blood would add luster to Iran’s recently established monarchy. The match was agreed to by Fawzia’s older brother, Farouk I, who had succeeded to the throne upon his father’s death in 1936. For Farouk, the marriage asserted a constitutional monarch’s power in a region lorded over by the British while for the Iranian Shah, once just a humble soldier, the century-old Egyptian royal family conferred aristocratic legitimacy on his own. The betrothal was also significant in that it united a Sunni royal - Fawzia - with a Shia royal - Mohammad Reza. However, the Crown Prince himself remained unaware of the martial negotiations and had not even seen a picture of his bride by the time the engagement was publicly announced in May of 1938.

Fawzia and her husband, Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, born on October 26, 1919 in Tehran, Iran, was the eldest son of Reza Khan and his second wife, Tadj ol-Molouk, and the third of eleven children. When Mohammad was born, he - along with his twin sister, Ashraf, his older sister, Shams, his younger brother, Ali Reza, and their older half-sister, Hamdamsaltaneh - were born as non-royals, for their father did not become Shah until 1925. Mohammad had a tough relationship with his father - he described him later in life as “one of the most frightening men” he had ever known and grew up in fear of his dominant personality and violent temper. As Shah, Mohammad would disparage his father in private, calling him a thuggish Cossack who achieved nothing as Shah, and almost airbrushed his father out of history during his reign to the point that the impression was given that the House of Pahlavi began its rule in 1941 rather than 1925. Mohammad’s mother, the superstitious but assertive Tadj ol-Molouk, provided the emotional support that her son so sorely needed. Under her influence, he grew up with an almost messianic belief in his own greatness and that God was working in his favor, which explained the often passive and fatalistic attitudes he displayed as an adult. But although he grew up surrounded by women, who were his main influences, he had a reputation as a womanizer and often spoke of women as sexual objects who existed only to please him.

The wedding rites were conducted twice - first in Cairo on March 15, 1939, according to Sunni custom, and later in Tehran according to Shi’ite custom. Fawzia was just seventeen at the time while Mohammad (who she had met only once before the wedding) was nineteen. At the wedding in Cairo, guests received bonbon boxes made of gold and precious stones, flower-filled floats paraded down the wide avenues, and fireworks were set off over the Nile. The day after the wedding in Cairo, the newlyweds flew to Tehran to conduct the Shi’ite ceremony, which included seven days of feasting, prisoners being released from jail, and food and money being handed out to the poor. Because Iranian law required that only an Iranian could become queen, a hasty bill was passed bestowing on Fawzia “the quality of Persianness.”

Crown Prince and Princess Fawzia and Mohammad Reza
with their only child, Princess Shahnaz
(early 1940’s)
Life in Tehran for Fawzia was very different - marriages between reigning dynasties in the Middle East were a novelty, so the uncultivated environment of Iran came as quite a shock to the new Crown Princess, who had spent all her life in the sophisticated city of Cairo. Though she was a married woman now, her life was no less restrictive than it had been before her wedding. At first, the marriage was relatively happy and the couple had one daughter, Princess Shahnaz Pahlavi, on October 27, 1940. In the eyes of the world, Fawzia was the epitome of glamor, her style a mixture of European fashion and oriental mystique. She was even pictured on the cover of Life magazine in 1942.

Unfortunately, by the time Mohammad Reza took the throne in late 1941 after an Anglo-Soviet invasion during World War II forced the abdication of his father, the marriage began to fall apart. Mohammad was openly unfaithful and was often seen driving around Tehran in one of his expensive cars with his girlfriends. Also, his dominating and extremely possessive mother saw Fawzia as a rival to her son’s love and took to humiliating her, while Mohammad sided with her all the while. Relations with her sisters-in-law were just as tense and she had no one to talk to, as her retinue of Egyptian servants was dismissed and she never succeeded at learning to speak Persian. To fend off boredom, she spent much of her time in bed and playing cards. A naturally shy and quiet woman, Fawzia described her marriage as miserable, feeling very much unwanted and unloved by her husband’s family, and longed to go back to Egypt. She refused to attend meetings of the charitable organizations and foundations of which she was nominal head as the Iranian queen and made it increasingly obvious her contempt for Iran and anything Iranian. She even began to show little interest in her own daughter and stopped sharing a room with her husband.

Fawzia Faud and her daughter, Princess Shahnaz
(early 1940’s)
By 1944, reports began to circulate that the Queen was in poor health. Since her arrival in Tehran, she had suffered regular bouts of malaria and other ailments. When a member of the Egyptian court visited Tehran, he discovered Fawzia to be neglected and gravely ill and described her as “a bony, cadaverous apparition... [her] shoulder blades jutted out like the fins of some undernourished fish.” She was persuaded to return to Egypt in 1945 for medical treatment and convalescence, upon which the Egyptian ambassador to Iran advised that divorce would be best for the couple. The divorce was not recognized for several years by Iran, but eventually an official separation was obtained on November 17, 1948, with Fawzia successfully reclaiming her previous distinction of “Princess of Egypt.” A major condition of the divorce was that her daughter be left behind to be raised in Iran, which she didn’t protest. In the official announcement of the divorce, it was stated that "the Persian climate had endangered the health of Empress Fawzia, and that thus it was agreed that the Egyptian King’s sister be divorced.”

Coincidentally, her brother had divorced his own wife, Farida, the same month Fawzia’s divorce was finalized and since their mother - the adventurous Queen Nazli - had fought with her son and went to live in America in 1946, Fawzia was now the senior lady in Egypt. She presided over the elaborate court receptions for ladies in Cairo and Alexandria and while she was not the most imaginative of hosts, she enjoyed the role.

Fawzia Faud of Egypt, Queen of Iran
On March 28, 1949, Fawzia remarried to Colonel Ismail Chirine, who was two years her senior, the eldest son of Hussein Chirine Bey and Princess Amina Bihruz Khanum Effendi. He was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge and a one-time Egyptian minister of war and the navy. They lived in an estate owned by Fawzia in Maadi, Cairo and had two children, one daughter and one son: Nadia Chirine (born in 1950) and Hussein Chirine (born in 1955). In early 1951, Mohammad Reza had remarried to Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari, who was thirteen years his junior and the daughter of a Bakhitary nobleman and Iranian ambassador to West Germany and his German wife. Their marriage would ultimately fail, as Mohammad’s mother and sisters could not get along with her since they saw her as another rival for his love, but it would be Soraya’s apparent infertility that broke the marriage apart completely. They divorced in 1958 after seven years of childlessness.

By the time of Fawzia’s second marriage, the Egyptian population, the majority of which were poor and disenfranchised, had turned against the royal family. King Farouk was seen as a corrupt and ineffectual playboy who was beholden to an occupying foreign power - the British. In 1952, a military coup led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser was widely heralded by the Egyptians and much of the world as an act of emancipation. The overthrown Farouk was forced to flee the country and lived in Rome for the rest of his life. Unlike most of her family, Fawzia remained in Egypt with her husband and children in a villa in Alexandria, where she lived a quiet, almost anonymous life in reduced circumstances, melting into the background of a rapidly growing city. Egypt would remain unstable politically for decades - going from monarchy to military coup, from socialism to oligarchy, to dictatorship and revolution again.
Fawzia Faud and her second husband, Ismail Chirine, with their
daughter Nadia

Iran fell into political turmoil in the 1970’s, with revolution finally erupting in 1979 as a result of strong opposition to the Shah due to clashes with Islamists, increased communist activity, and American and British support for his regime. By the time the monarchy was overthrown the same year the revolution began, Mohammad was married to his third wife, Farah Diba, an Iranian nearly twenty years his junior from an upper-class family, who he had wed in late 1959 and had two sons and two daughters with. Mohammad Reza died in exile in Egypt in 1980 at the age of sixty, unable to ever return to Iran under the penalty of death. His wife and two of his children survive him, with the former Empress dividing her time between Washington D.C. and Paris.

Princess Shahnaz Pahlavi of Iran
Fawzia’s daughter from her marriage to Mohammad - Princess Shahnaz - married a one-time Iranian foreign minister and twice ambassador to the U.S., Ardeshir Zahedi, in 1957 when he was twenty-nine and she was only seventeen. They had one daughter, Princess Zahra Mahnaz Zahedi, in 1958 before they divorced in 1964. Shahnaz later married Khosrow Jahanbani, the son of an Iranian general and a Russian aristocrat, in 1971. Khosrow was just four months Shahnaz’s junior and the great-great grandson of Fath Ali Shah, the Shah of Iran from 1797-1834. He was reported to have had more than 1,000 wives and was survived by fifty-seven sons and forty-six daughters, along with 296 grandsons and 292 granddaughters. Shahnaz and Khosrow had two children: a son, Keykhosrow, in 1971 and a daughter, Fawzia, in 1973. Khosrow died in 2014 at the age of seventy-three after combatting cancer for several years while Shahnaz still survives him today at the age of seventy-six in Switzerland, where she has lived with her family since the Iranian revolution.

Fawzia’s daughter from her second marriage, Nadia Chirine, married twice and had two daughters, one with her first husband and one with her second - Sinai and Fawzia respectively. She died in 2009 at the age of fifty-eight. Nadia’s brother, Hussein Chirine, never married or had children and died in 2016 at the age of sixty-one. Ismail Chirine, Fawzia’s second husband, died in 1994 at the age of seventy-four. Fawzia survived him by nineteen years before her own death on July 2, 2013 at the age of ninety-one in Alexandria. She was buried in Cairo alongside Ismail.

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